ACC Basketball

Cavaliers Shut Down the Panthers

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense is tough. I get it. There is a reason why they give up only 50 points per game. When it’s clicking, it’s actually pretty to watch, but it’s not impregnable.

Of course the easiest way to beat it is by just hitting threes. Sure the defenders will run at you, but you’ll have space to shoot. Problem is, hitting threes isn’t easy for everyone and it certainly isn’t easy for Pittsburgh. Don’t be fooled by what they accomplished Saturday against North Carolina.

If you can’t rely on the three, then you have to make quick decisions, especially in the paint. The Cavaliers double up everything inside, whether you’re a guard driving to the lane or a big man posting up. Either way, that player needs to know what he is doing before he does it. The key is the extra pass. Find the open guy, find an easy bucket.

Lastly, attack. I don’t care how good of a defensive system a team runs. If you push the ball before they get set, advantage offense.

Well, against Virginia Monday night, the Panthers obviously couldn’t hit threes (6-16 on the night). Inside though is where they really struggled. Michael Young had his worst game of the year. Forget the fact he shot 0-3, scored zero points and got just four rebounds to five personal fouls. The young man simply didn’t know what to do with a double team.

Granted, Young is not a monster in the post, so he’s not use to getting doubled up, but that doesn’t matter to Virginia. They double the post and they do it fast. Too often, Young dribbled out of the double team. See the video below.

You can’t really see it at the bottom right, but as Young receives the ball, Jamel Artis slashes to the open spot along the baseline. He’s open, but Young doesn’t recognize where the double team is coming from and dribbles out of the post before forcing a bad pass and turns it over (three on the night). This happen multiple times Monday.

Pittsburgh did come out in the second half and attacked, but I don’t know why Jamie Dixon couldn’t get his squad to understand this until after the intermission. Relying on long jumpers at the end of the shot clock, the Panthers scored just 15 first half points, twice going six minutes without scoring a single point. You got timeouts, Jamie. Use them.

Luckily for the Panthers, the Cavaliers struggled yet again to make shots. Between the end of the first half and into the second, Virginia missed 17 of 23 shots. This allowed a more aggressive Panthers squad to get back to within seven. Yet, despite having plenty of opportunities to inch closer, the Panthers kept blowing their chances with turnovers and missed free throws (missing five straight at one point). Midway through the second they were just 3-11 from the charity stripe, before nailing their final six.

Eventually, using multiple baseline screens, the Panthers were able to get Jamel Artis (20 points) and Sheldon Jeter (10) open on the wing and trailed by only three, 36-33, with just under eight to play, before the Cavaliers got hot, scoring on six of their next eight possessions, sealing the game by hitting 16-20 free throws down the stretch.

Thanks to some late buckets, Virginia’s overall shooting performance wasn’t tragic, 42% from the floor, 38% from deep. The problem is, the Panthers defense wasn’t that fantastic; the Cavaliers just missed a ton of open shots and let another opponent hang around. Malcolm Brogdon led the team with 18 points, while London Perrantes finished with 10 points, six assists. Anthony Gill had a productive game, especially early, scoring 12 points, grabbing four offensive boards.

With the win, they’ll maintain their strangle hold on first place in the ACC, improving to 12-1 in conference play, 24-1 overall. Pittsburgh’s NCAA Tournament hopes are still just that…hope. The win at home this past weekend over North Carolina was nice, but a road win at Virginia would have been a game-changer. Next up is at Syracuse. They just beat the Orange nine days ago, but this one is in the Dome.

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